FYAO Alum Interview: Ten Questions with Rachel Shepard

FYAO Alum Rachel Shepard, left, gives a few pointers to current FYAO member Gina Makarova

Last month we interviewed Rachel Shepard, superb violinist and ten year veteran of the FYAO orchestras. Rachel was a teaching assistant at the FYAO Summer Camp last June, and she quickly gained the respect of the FYAO Artistic Staff and campers alike. Rachel had the honor of being one of the Concertmasters of the FYAO Symphony Orchestra in our Carnegie Hall debut. Here’s the interview, which was made by FYAO graduate Austin Burket (thanks, Austin!), himself a third year violin performance major at Stetson:

1.     When did you graduate from the FYAO, and how long were you a member?

I graduated as a high school senior in 2007, as the Concertmaster of the Symphony.

2.     Where did you go to college and what was your major?

I attended FSU and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Violin Performance.

3.    What was the most enjoyable part of your undergraduate major?

I really enjoyed being a part of a close-knit group of musicians, all working toward the same goal of creating beautiful music together.

4.  What are you doing now?

I am attending graduate school at Rice University, studying … music! Lately, I’ve been able to do some teaching, some gigs, and I also played with the Tallahassee Symphony. I’ve spent three summers studying at the Aspen Music Festival, and I also studied at Round Top Music Festival (outside of Houston, where Rice is located).

5.  You were an FYAO member for 10 years – what orchestras did you play in?

I started in the Sinfonia!  As I practiced and practiced, I eventually I moved to the Philharmonic and then the Symphony.

6.  What is your favorite FYAO memory?

It is a toss-up:  Mr. May’s endless jokes, and the Carnegie Hall performance!  I guess they are both great memories for different reasons, but the FYAO was always a lot of fun and a big challenge at the same time.

7.  Did you participate in the FYAO Concerto Competition?

Yes, several times.  It was a great confidence builder for me.  I started entering at an early age, and competed on different pieces each year.  It was great to finally win, but it was also a great opportunity to play a solo with the orchestra.  I learned that it was more significant for my own development to compete again and again, and that winning was not nearly as important.  In life there is always discouragement, but competing taught me to keep trying, because it helped me get better and better as a player.

8.   How did your FYAO experience help you in college?

Well, the FYAO Concerto Competition, along with the annual new season auditions, gave me a lot of experience playing in front of others. So when I auditioned at FSU, I was very well prepared to play, especially from the mental aspect.  The variety of important music we played in FYAO, including chamber music, gave me a wide exposure to music that I would study in greater depth in college.

9.  Looking back on your FYAO experience, what advice would you offer to current FYAO students?

Cultivate a deep love of music while you are in the FYAO!  Practice is important, yes, and learning your parts well.  But unless you focus performing for the sheer love of it, you could burn out.  That’s pretty much important for anything that you want to succeed at, but it was especially true for me with music.  Make friends in the FYAO – learn to build relationships with other students.  You know, the FYAO is a lot like the college experience – you are playing with other musicians, most of whom you initially don’t know, and whom you don’t see every day – and meeting and relating to new people is so essential to your success in life.  Take advantage of the FYAO community – there are different cultures, schools, teachers, etc., and there is always something you can learn from someone else.

10.  Anything else you’d like to say?

I really enjoyed working with the students at the FYAO Summer Camp!  It was a fun time of learning, and it was also very rewarding to work with Dr. Cespedes, Alvaro and Routa Gomez.  You have some very great teachers in the FYAO, and I am excited about what the future holds for the organization.

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